Dry-Tooling at Urnerboden

Winter is coming - and so is Luigi ;-P He's been anticipating the cold season for a while now. Spending a lot of time at the "pig farm", a private training gym, where he practices dry-tooling and ice climbing. There's not super-much ice just yet, so we headed to Urnerboden to check out the conditions and do some dry-tooling. We had the entire area to ourselves and practiced laps on a wet limestone wall. We tried routes up to M6+ according to the guide book. Luigi was my rope gun while I basically just flailed around on top-rope. My severe lack of training definitely shows. But then I have the additional excuse of climbing with dual frontpoints when you really only want a single crampon tip for the delicate balance and moves required on rock. Dry-tooling is weird in that regard. On the one hand it is utterly amazing how you can somehow stick even the tiniest depressions and protusions in the rock. On the other, you get very little advance warning before you come off. Shift your weight just a little in the wrong direction. Pull your tools ever so slightly outward. Pop. There he goes. For regular rock climbing you tend to have both more advance warning when your grip is losening and a more gradual failure curve instead of the sudden all or nothing of dry-tooling. Definitely something to get used to. It was a fun exercise, but I need more gym time before I can enjoy it properly.

Ooooh, yes!
Luigi on the sharp end.
Love me some winter.
The tools of the trade.
Me picking my way up.
Luigi trying some steep moves on top-rope.
Last time I've been here this creek was frozen and snowed in. Now we actually had to ford it. Hurray to waterproof heavy winter boots ;-P
The walls on the right are still running with water. Ice will hopefully come later.


Ofen (2185m) via Spitzmuis, 140m, 6a

Arne had promised Tobi to climb at Melchsee Frutt on the "Ofen", "oven", wall for a long time. With only three more days to go, before access is forbidden to preserve wildlife in winter, we had to hurry. Luckily the weather forecast was good, so we teamed up as two parties: Arne and Tobi heading for a difficult 6b+, while Mark and I chose a more mellow 6a in the neighboring sector. As is our custom, Mark and I got lost on the approach. It takes about two hours of walking to reach the wall - we had all done this part before and this was in any case still the shared part for the four of us. But once under the towering wall, Tobi and Arne had to head around a buttress on the right while Mark and I were meant to go left. We started left but somehow ended up back on the same trail with the others. Just as well. We have a reputation to maintain after all ;-P

On the approach. The left sector is called "Dach" (roof). Not difficult to imagine why ;-)
Arne and Tobi getting ready. What a daring line straight up that looming wall.
In t-shirt. At 2000m altitude. In November.

We fixed our mistake by traversing along the wall and found our route without too much trouble. The climbing turned out to be just the right difficulty - challenging enough to be interesting but not too hard to be intimidating. I was out of shape for lack of training while Mark had had another Covid booster just two days prior (and in fact ended up testing positive a few days later). We enjoyed cruising up the wall. Despite the fact that we were higher than fresh snow on the opposing North facing slopes we could climb in t-shirt all day. It seems the name oven for this South facing wall is well deserved indeed.

Mark posing for the camera.
Hanging around.
Comfy belay ledge.

We topped out at 1:30 pm and started rappelling right away. Back down on the ground we went back to the start of the other route and were surprised to see Tobi and Arne still moving up. So we surfed down the steep scree and settled into a position that allowed us to spectate the climb. It got very chilly as soon as the sun sunk behind the ridge behind us. The others realized that they wouldn't finish in daylight and decided to bail two pitches short of the top. This means poor Arne will have to return a third time to finish off this particular route ;-P

Tobi in the other route. Steep!
Top! Mark demonstrating his rappel knot. "European death knot".
Rappelling over a cave.

We hiked back to the car and drove to a burger place to meet up with Tobi's girlfriend and friend who spent the day paragliding nearby. They intended to sleep in their campervans in "the spot" that night.

Scree surfing on the way down.
Beautiful vistas on the hike out. That layer of haze in the valley is from a single big wood fire!
Intense colors.
Well deserved!


Cragging at Engi with family

Anitas brother Helmut with his family visited us at the end of October. We had barely completed the move and were just ready to receive visitors again. So they drove up from Stuttgart to see if the new house passed muster - it was deemed adequate ;-P On Saturday we all went to Engi for some kids friendly climbing and picnic location. The four kids loved exploring the creek, boulders and climbing wall together. And everybody enjoyed self made hot dogs over an open fire. The next day Leonie insisted on showing off her forest kindergarden to everyone. So we walked there and spent the day romping around the forest. Turned out we weren't the only ones taking advantage of the nice wheather and nice location: a group of other forest kindergarden parents, families and friends had also gathered to make bread on a stick and have a good time. Good weekend all around.

(I try to avoid posting pictures of the kids' faces online, so for the best photos you need to come visit us ;-P)

The kids exploring the creek right at the parking lot.
The picnic had to start right away. Packing all these foodstuffs without being allowed to eat them was a challenge before we even left the house.
Paul in action.
Same move, different wall.
The gang roaming the area.
Climbing instructions?
Climbing instructions.
Paul climbing. Me belaying. Leonie waiting her turn and discovering a natural slide.
Causing chaos.
Forest kindergarden swing #1
Forest kindergarden swing #2


Brüggler (1777m) via "Grüne Plattenwand", 170m, 5a, with guests ;-P

Matt and Amy were visiting from Pittsburgh. Christian, Christian and I took a day off from work to go climbing with them on Brüggler. Our guests graciously agreed to write up their experience for this blog. Thank you Matt and Amy! Here it is in their words:

While vacationing in Zurich, Switzerland, we learned about 3 types of fun:

  • Type 1 - fun had while doing the activity
  • Type 2 - fun experienced retrospectively
  • Type 3 - fun experienced vicariously through the reactions of others

Looking at the majestic Rhine falls, hiking Mount Stoos, exploring Lucerne - these were all amazing and easily type 1 experiences.

Waking up at 5 AM to take a 1 hour hike to the base of a mountain, climb 200 meters up a sheer rock face, and a 1 hour hike back down- that was less obvious.

First glimpse of the Brüggler South Wall.
Matt and Amy on the approach.
Our welcome committee.

Matt: I’ve been climbing in gyms, on boulders, and up single pitch routes for several years now. This was my first multi-pitch sport climb. I was traveling to Zürich for work and somehow the topic of climbing came up. Sören generously offered to lead a climb and provide equipment that couldn’t easily be taken on a flight. I was super stoked to do my first bigger climb, and in the beautiful Swiss mountains no less! Unfortunately, it rained the entire first week I was there. Luckily, the weather the following week was perfect, and Sören plus a couple of my coworkers needed little convincing to take a vacation day to do some climbing. I was even able to rope my wife into joining us!

Last instructions before starting the climb...
...somewhat distracted by the locals.
Matt and Amy coming up.

Amy: I have been intermittently bouldering and occasionally top roping at climbing gyms for the last several years. I had never climbed outside before. When my husband, Matt, asked me if I wanted to climb a mountain with him, I was somewhat hesitant. I love new experiences, but the thought of climbing a real-life mountain was intimidating, to say the least. Most real outdoor climbers would probably not even consider a 200 meter climb a real summit. In fact, The Summit Post calls Brüggler a “harmless, small hill.” Regardless, I decided to go for it.

We dubbed this the "couples cave". Squeezing at the anchor to fit all five of us.
One of the Christians.
Both Christians.

We met up with Sören in the early hours of the morning on a sunny Tuesday, along with the rest of our climbing crew. Upon seeing Brüggler we were both nervous and excited. After getting through the hike to the base of the mountain, we met our first challenge: goats. Trying to gear up while keeping at least 3 goats at any given time from eating your equipment was a memorable start to the day. Eventually, we were on the cliff face and ready to go. Sören climbed the first pitch with an ease that made it obvious his Alpine climbing stories were no exaggeration. After steeling ourselves, we followed up behind him.

Good mood.
Matt seems to like it.

Matt: After gearing up and tying in (despite the goats’ best efforts) it was off to the first pitch. Sören led, and I belayed while our second group waited for us to be out of their way. After he made it up, I went up next (cleaning as I went) followed by Amy. So far this felt pretty similar to previous climbs, except there would be 5 more pitches.

Amy demonstrating "spread your legs and trust the rubber" technique.
Summit ridge. Lake Zürich in the background.

Amy: One of my clearest memories from the day was my first fall. While still terrified pretty much the entire time, realizing fully that if I fell I wouldn’t tumble to my death made the rest of the climb much more enjoyable.

Another moment that really stuck with me was the first time I got to a rest point. I sat down, turned around and looked at the view with the valley sprawled out below us and knew that no matter how scary this was, it was worth it.

Summit ridge and shadow of the summit cross.
Even topper.

Matt: After getting to the top of the first pitch we hung out for sec, reset, and Sören led again. This was a completely new experience for us; just sitting back in our harnesses, feet on the wall, and weight completely supported by the rope. I belayed again - belaying from an anchor was a new experience but the motions were familiar. It was actually less stressful now that we were out of reach from the goats below.

Climbing on limestone was a lot of fun, I’ve almost exclusively climbed on granite outdoors. The bomber hand holds and interesting “ribbed” section were a fun mix-up compared to the relative dearth of features found on some granite slabs.

Sören put us at ease with his knowledge and experience. We felt absolutely safe and that he was in control of the situation at all times. He even was kind enough to take some great photos of us climbing the mountain. He is an excellent lead for beginners.

View towards the city.
Family photo at the summit.
Hiking down.

The views all the way up were absolutely fantastic, but the peak was unforgettable. The golden early evening light bathed the surrounding peaks, and the valley below was cast into deep shadows. The gorgeous view, combined with the feeling of accomplishment, was an exceptional experience. And though we had heard the clanging bells, the goats did not reappear to harass us.

So what type of fun did we have? After getting the hang of things and being able to relax into the climb, after writing this post to look back on the day, and after seeing the reactions of friends and family to our adventure- we would say all three.

Some scrambling required.
Nice skies in the early evening.